Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The name goeth before ... even by itself

Al-Qaeda is mining Facebook to unearth personal details of coalition military personnel. "The MI5 analysts have seen that many thousands of servicemen and women had posted personal details on those websites and had included news of their careers, pictures of themselves in uniforms and details of past postings. “Those details in the hands of al-Qaida operatives offer invaluable information,” Evans warns."

Whether they like it or not; and whether they realize it or not, nearly every person who uses the Internet creates an online reputation which reveals details and conveys an impression independent of the actual truth. I describe some of the issues associated with an online reputation at Pajamas Media. There are companies which will sell you reports describing how you "look" on the Internet. There is now an industry devoted to finding, deleting or modifying information about us on the Internet. Don't believe they can do it? Why, check out their online reputations!

Nothing follows.


Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

One reason I do my political writing with a pseudonym.

Years ago when I first got on the Internet I spent a lot of my online time writing on the Usenet mostly political debates and discussions. Then one a colleague started to refer to these same discussions. I asked him how he found out about them and he chimed in DejaNews (which was bought by Google) searching on something. Fortunately, the both of us were fairly close politically.

From that point I realized it was not unreasonable for people to find out these conversations and perhaps hold them against me in situations where those discussions are irrelevant.

1/15/2008 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

As search technology improves, even the use of a pseudonym on the internet becomes problematical. A friend of mine, who was always extremely careful to use a pseudonym online, did a search on his pseudonym and a link to his real name poped up!

He was placed in the unfortunate position of having to kill his pseudonym, and throw away his online reputation, because there was no way to get rid of the link.

1/15/2008 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I started in UseNet as well...but I wasn't so high-minded as to join the political battles. I gravitated directly to alt.flame and the other cesspools of stupidity and verbal violence. What can I say, I appreciated a biting, witty insult at the time.

Thing is, I probably posted under half a dozen or more pseudonyms, plus I've probably posted under a dozen since The Emergence Of The Blog (though not here). I very much doubt the best search engines in the hands of a skilled team of dedicated researchers could find EVERYTHING I've written. I know I certainly couldn't.

Still, it's advisable to watch what you write, because it can, indeed, come back to bite you in the backside. Enough of my record could probably be turned up to prevent me from ever becoming president...though the level of stupidity I've displayed in the past would show me to be perfectly suited to congress.

1/15/2008 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger putnam said...

One of my sons recently died, and I didn't make his obituary/history web site public because I was afraid that some unknown personna could somehow abuse the information on the site.

For a similar reason I have no facebook entry.

Young people may be innocent and naive enough to make this kind of personal information public, but I would consider this very risky for any member of the military, and I am surprised that there isn't any DOD policy on this.

1/15/2008 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger Towering Barbarian said...

[Nods in agreement]

Back when I came on in the 90s the one thing I was told and read over and over again was, "*_NEVER_* give out personal information. You have no way of knowing what sort of nutboys are out there or what will set them off.". One of several reasons why I will never use my real name except with those I trust very closely indeed. Fortunately, I grew up near a town where "Never tell nobody nothin'" was a part of the general outlook so that wasn't hard to do.

2 rules in using a pen name:

1. Always use a cybercafe, a college computer or a public library computer when you post. If you must post from a private computer when using a political pen name then make sure it's someone else's. More importantly, don't use the same set of public computers twice in a row. This will still give a determined searcher your general location by dint of traffic analysis but if you live in a reasonably large urban area that still won't be much help by itself. Any pen name you don't do this must be regarded as compromised and should be abandoned when you feel the heat is on.

2. Do not confide in others. 3 can keep a secret if 2 are dead. Anytime someone knows that you and your pen name are the same then, again you should regard that name as compromised. The amount that those who are nearest and dearest to you can give away even without meaning to is truly scary. You can't alter that but you can control how much there is to give away by keeping your pen names to yourself.

1/15/2008 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger 1389 said...


Everyone, I'd like your help:

Here's an article that I have been asked to pass along and to make into a "blogburst":

Balkan Terrorists Target Euro Police Convention

Please read the article. If you like it...

...and you are a member of StumbleUpon, please give it a Stumble, and, if you have time, a review. Also, please send it along to your friends on SU and ask them to do the same.

Those of you who are bloggers, and who would like to re-post the article, please email me for a text file (or click here to contact me).

Feel free to post it in forums or wherever else you can.

Thanks very much!


1/15/2008 05:52:00 PM  
Blogger Towering Barbarian said...

3rd rule: It's also not a bad idea to keep your poliname seperate from your hobbynames as well as both seperate from your business("real") name. If you're using a pen name becase you have reason to worry rather than from reflex then having someone track you by your hobbies is not the best of plans. ^_^;

Fortunately, pen names are like locks, sooner or later anyone with enough time, patience and skilz can crack them but that's OK because you aren't using them to keep out those people but rather the riffraff who lack these qualities but are still willing to act as griefers. If those who worry you are not a government in charge of your life then even with a little sloppiness you can still laugh at them forever. *If* you avoid sloppiness then a pen name, like a good lock, may still delay even the skilled long enough for you to be warned by their activities and do something about it. ^_~

1/15/2008 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

Consider the situation of an online pundit. He wants people to know who he is, wants people to know what his opinions are. Because that is how he makes his living. That's how he gets a table in a Washington restaurant, and interviews with the high and mighty.

But it also exposes him to the hatred of those on the other side (whichever side that might be). It gets him or her thrown off committees. As a consequence, some online pundits probably pander subconsciously to the crowd. Or hear the dread words "you'll never work in this town again."

1/15/2008 06:49:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

Let's face it. Doing or saying anything that flies in the face of the fanatics can make you a target. Despite presumed protections of our constitution, statutes, and regulations, there are bastards of all political persuasions ready to screw folks they detest.

I would like to think that it's less likely among conservatives and people of faiths centered on compassion and self-denial. Of course, those can become distorted and turn into monsters occasionally, but *that* at least an aberration rather than the central aim...

But for military, or police, or FBI agents, or even firefighters, personal information needs to be protected from public scrutiny and dissemination.

1/15/2008 10:31:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

The rule that used to be cited back when I worked in the Games industry --- where every company had internal email ---was that you should assume that ANYTHING you write in an email might eventually end up seen by someone with the potential for embarrassing you.

One incident comes to mind that illustrates the absurd situation. I was working at a children's software company freshly purchased in a "leveraged buyout." The new owners having snared the leader, proceeded to acquire every other midsized company (i.e., smaller than Disney) in the industry. They would take a couple of months to study the new purchase, then lay off 25-30 percent of the staff across the company, targeting those with enough seniority to be making decent money, benefits, options, etc. Those were replaced by kids right out of college, for entry-level wages and benefits.

Clearly the new owners were compassionate types deeply concerned about the welfare of the employees. (irony mode)

One day a young man working in subsidiary in Massachusetts sent out an email with a mildly salacious joke, inadvertently addressing it to "EVERYONE" so that it was sent to every valid email address in the company, from the CEO down to the lowliest artist and programmer.

Within fifteen minutes, an email issued from the company's president announcing that the company was deeply concerned with maintaining a workplace which valued the sensibilities and feelings of each and every one of its employees. It noted that the earlier message from employee "X" was judged to be a violation of this high standard of sensitivity for employees, and the offending employee had been sacked. Have a nice day.

1/16/2008 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger subpatre said...

Wretchard, longtimenosee.

Like locks and safecrackers, the anonymity game will go back and forth. It's a function of 'how much time' will be spent defending (or cracking) a pseudonym. A 1980s study showed residential burglars gave up —on average— after 3 minutes of unsuccessful breaking attempts. The combination of no-success and fear-of-discovery were the time determinants.

Because of the time factor, an entity can setup pseudonyms —more properly pseudohoms— for black hats to probe. The current vogue is calling such sites ‘honeypots’; I have no suggestion for an artificial personal entry in Facebook or Myspace.

It’d be a blast (and easy) to setup personal phone numbers, real street addresses, PO boxes, etc Contacting any of them —even probing the Facebook/Myspace accounts— would reveal blackhat operatives.

Yes, there’s lots of operatives, or at least lots of useful idiots. But technology can manufacture GIs and ‘weaklinks’ on Myspace/Facebook faster than real badguys can reproduce.

1/16/2008 01:52:00 PM  

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